What does it mean to have a vitamin D deficiency?

When I went to see my psychiatrist a couple weeks ago, he recommended that I get my blood levels checked.

I can't believe that in the 11 years since I was first officially diagnosed with anxiety/panic disorder, it never crossed my mind to get my blood tested and find out the inner workings of my body. I never thought about how abnormalities in my blood could affect my mental state.

As Dr. Charles Grant, a psychiatrist in Maine, said, "Unless you test, you've guessed."

So, last week, I went to Sparrow Hospital's Medical Lab in Lansing (I had to call around to find out where I was supposed to go...that's how clueless I was about blood tests) to get four vials filled with my blood.

A few days ago, I got my results back. The voicemail from my psychiatrist's office stated, "Your vitamin D levels are low and the doctor wants to put you on a supplement for that. It's a once week pill — a megadosing of vitamin D."

I know I'm weird but I was looking forward to finding out what was wrong with me. I know it's situational because of things going on at work, but my anxiety has been really bad in the last couple months. It's probably been more than a decade - before I was even treated for my anxiety - that it's been this bad. So to think that maybe, just maybe, I have another tool in my toolbox to help fight this, it actually made me really excited.

But what does it mean to have low levels of vitamin D? Of course, I had to do my research.

The first thing I found out was that I am very much not alone. In fact, about one billion people worldwide have a vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. Low levels of vitamin D in the blood have significant medial and psychological consequences, according to Psychology Today. The brain, heart, muscles and immune system all have vitamin D receptors and all need the vitamin in order to function.

Eep - well, I guess this means there's something wrong with pretty much every level of my body — but I digress.

I also learned that, although I've never had a problem with not eating enough calcium because cheese is my favorite thing on this planet, the calcium I do consume is not being absorbed because, on top of all it's other functions, vitamin D also assists with the absorption of calcium.

And then, like I mentioned before, vitamin D affects the brain. It activates genes that regulate the immune system and release neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, that affect brain function and development, according to Psychology Today.

Dr. James M. Greenblatt wrote, "I have found that in my experience, vitamin D deficiency impairs and prolongs recovery from depression. There are various studies that confirm this link between low vitamin D and mental illness."

He references one such study in which adults with the deficiency received high doses of the vitamin and saw an improvement in their depressive symptoms in two months.

For me, I was prescribed Vitamin D2 1.25MG, 50,000 units to take once a week for the next three months. I took my first capsule on Wednesday morning, so note to self: Remember to take it again next Wednesday!

"Vitamin D2 is effective in raising 25(OH)D levels when given in physiologic and pharmacologic doses and is a simple method to treat and prevent vitamin D deficiency," Dr. Michael F. Holick, director of the Bone Healthcare Clinic and the Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Laboratory at Boston University School of Medicine, told  Science Daily.

"While treating and preventing vitamin D deficiency, these large doses of vitamin D2 do not lead to vitamin D toxicity." (Phew)

So, if you are suffering from anxiety, depression and especially season affective disorder, I would recommend getting your blood levels checked to see if you are one of the one billion people who suffer from vitamin D deficiency.

For more information about vitamin D, visit the Vitamin D Council's website at www.vitamindcouncil.org.

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